The Second Voyage Of Sinbad The Sailor
I was living in Baghdad in the midst of every delight, surrounded by companions after my own heart. But a time came when the wandering spirit seized me again and I longed for the sight, even for the perils, of other and unknown lands. This, and the fact that I had decreased my substance by large expenditure, led me to adventure a second journey, at once to relieve the monotony of life and to replenish my exhausted store.
The step was quickly taken. Having collected suitable merchandise I repaired to the river, and, without a word to anyone, embarked on a new ship finely rigged and manned by a large crew. Together with a goodly party of merchants I sailed away, and we passed over the deep from island to island and from sea to sea, with fair winds filling the sails. And at every place at which we cast anchor we bought and sold and bartered. So we continued until we came to an uninhabited island of great beauty. The trees hung with ripe fruits; birds of bright plumage flew hither and thither over the shining foliage, and their songs were heard in the topmost branches; rare flowers laid their scent upon the breeze, and pure clear streams coursed everywhere. When we landed we fell to extolling these master touches of the Creator’s hand, for, indeed, the place was, as it were, born of fragrant musk—so fresh and beautiful and full of all delights not made by man. Selecting a rare spot on the bank of a stream, I sat apart, meditating upon the wonderful works of the Omnipotent One. There the soft zephyrs singing in the trees, and the stream murmuring at my feet, lulled me to slumber; and, when I awoke later, I looked forth upon the sea and lo, the ship was far out on the wall of the ocean sloping to the sky. They had forgotten me and I was left alone upon the island.
Despair fell upon me as I gazed around and realised that I was desolate. And I said within myself, “What if I escaped from dangers in the past when all seemed lost—it still remains that here at least there is no escape.” Then I blamed myself for leaving my comfortable life in Baghdad to undertake this voyage; for here there was neither strong food nor strong drink; nor rich apparel, nor gold, nor goods. As I pondered to the point of madness on these things a restless spirit came upon me, and I ran to and fro in the island, retracing my steps and crossing them; but I found naught to lessen my despair.
At last I climbed to the top of a high tree, and, looking forth in every direction, saw only sky and sea and trees and watercourses. As I gazed, however, my eye reverted again and again to an object in a distant part of the island. It was round and white, and of enormous size. This aroused my curiosity and I resolved to find out what it was. Having marked its position I descended from the tree and made my way towards it. When I reached it I found to my astonishment that it was a gigantic dome, white and shining. My first thought was to walk round it to ascertain if there were some door or opening, but none could I find in its whole circumference, which was about fifty paces.
While I was meditating on some means to gain an entrance to this strange structure, behold, the sky darkened; and on looking towards the sinking sun, I saw it was hidden by a great black cloud,—an unwonted thing, as it was the summer season. While I continued to gaze the object drew rapidly nearer, and now I could discern in it the shape of a monstrous bird approaching swiftly through the air; and this it was that blotted out the sun.
Marvelling greatly I recalled a story told by travellers about certain islands where was found a bird of immense size called the rukh, which fed its young on elephants. It was then I knew that the great white dome I had discovered was one of this bird’s eggs,—at which, not the least of the Creator’s works, I wondered greatly. Then, while I so wondered, the giant bird alighted over the egg, and, crouching down, spread its wings and brooded over it, and composed itself to sleep.
Here, thought I, was a chance of escaping from the island. Unfolding my turban I twisted it into a rope, and bound one end of it tightly about my waist; then I approached the great bird cautiously, and fastened the other end securely to one of its feet; for thus, when it flew away, it might perchance bear me through the air to some inhabited region.
The whole night long I lay awake thinking of my projected flight, but it was not until morning that the bird awoke, and, with a loud cry, rose from the egg, bearing me aloft. Higher and higher it soared, until I thought it must reach the stars; then, gradually, in vast circles, it descended, and finally came to earth on a high table-land. In great fear lest the bird should discover my presence I made haste to loose the turban from its foot, and, having done so, I crept away, trembling in every limb. Then, as I watched the bird from a distance, I observed it pick something from the ground and soar away with it clutched in its talons; and I looked again and saw that it was an enormous serpent twisting and writhing in the grasp of the bird as it flew swiftly towards the sea. And at this strange thing I wondered greatly as I folded my turban.
But what desert place had I come to by this daring misadventure? On the one side of the table-land was a deep valley, and, on the other, a steep mountain which no foot of man could climb. Had I only remained in the island I should at least have had fruit to eat and water to drink, but here was nothing but desolation, from which I had no hope of escape. There was no course but to descend into the valley; and this I did, little caring whither I went.
Now, I had not walked therein but a few furlongs when I observed that the ground I trod was strewn with diamonds of large size, but—and this gave me cause for wild alarm—coiled here and there amongst the stones were gigantic serpents such as the one I had seen the bird bear away in its talons. As soon as I was aware of these sleeping serpents, which were of the same hue as the ground whereon they lay, I stept warily lest I should awaken them and be devoured.
In this way was I proceeding down that valley, my flesh quaking and my knees a-tremble, when suddenly the flayed carcase of a slaughtered beast fell with a great noise before me. This aroused great wonder in my mind and also called to my recollection a story I had heard in my youth from a merchant traveller who had visited lands whence none else had ever come to deny the truth of it—a story confirmed by others who claimed a reputation for wide knowledge, and feared to lose it. It was this—that in a far land, where diamonds are as thickly strewn as the venomous serpents and other deadly perils which render it difficult to come at them, the daring merchants who seek these precious stones employ a cunning stratagem. They take a beast and slaughter it on the heights above the valley, and, having skinned it and lacerated the flesh, they throw it down. And, when it reaches the bottom of the valley whereon the diamonds lie, the stones adhere to the moist flesh. From the depths of the sky descends the watching vulture of the giant kind, and this bird, seizing the carcase in its talons, soars with it to the mountain tops; whereupon the merchants spring out and frighten the bird away with loud cries, and then take the stones adhering to the meat and bear them to their own country. I had my whole life long regarded this story with a half-shut eye, but now, beholding the slaughtered beast before me, and guessing full well the meaning of its presence there, I said within myself, “By Allah! no marvel is past belief, for here is the verification.” I surveyed that carcase and, having measured in a glance the distance to the mountains whence it had descended, I gazed into the blue sky in whose depths lurked the watching vulture. A plan of escape then came to me and I hastened to put it into operation. First I gathered as many diamonds as I could well dispose within my garments. Then, unfolding my turban, I approached the slaughtered beast, and, lying on my back, drew it over me and bound myself firmly to it.
I had not lain long in that position, with the heavy weight of the beast upon me, when a monstrous vulture came out of the sky, and, seizing upon the carcase with a loud scream, gripped it in its powerful talons and rose up and away with it and me. And it rose higher and higher, with a mighty flapping of its wings, until at last it alighted on a broad ledge near the summit of the mountain—a place which, judging by the bleached bones lying on every hand, was the favourite feeding-place of these birds. This was clearly known to the merchant who had cast the carcase down, for, no sooner had the vulture deposited his burden and started to tear at the flesh, than he sprang out with loud cries and scared it away.
Half smothered by the weight of the slaughtered beast I lost no time in freeing myself, and soon I struggled to my feet and stood there with my clothes stained and polluted with its blood. When the merchant saw me his fear was great; but his disappointment was even greater when, his fear mastered by the lust of gain, he turned the carcase over and found no diamonds sticking to the flesh. Pitying him in his sad case—for he was smiting hand on hand and calling out against fate—I advanced and said, “Curse not fate, nor fear me, for I am of thy kind, and I hear with me an abundance of these stones the loss of which thou lamentest; and they are of the largest that a man can carry upborne by a vulture’s wings. Of these will I give unto thee; therefore forget thy fear and bury thy disappointment.”
On hearing this the merchant thanked me and prayed fervently for me and my family; and he ceased not to pray for the prolongation of my life until I had bestowed upon him the largest diamonds I could find within my garments. While he was thanking me for this there came his companions, each of whom had cast down a carcase; and, when they had heard the story of my escape, they congratulated me and bade me come with them, for they said, “By Allah! thou art greatly favoured by fate, since none but thee hath been in that valley and escaped to tell the tale.”
After my perilous adventures, and my despairing sojourn in the valley of serpents, I was filled with the utmost joy at finding my fellow mortals around me; and, seeing this, they made me welcome among them, and I partook of their food and wine. We passed the night in a safe place, and, when morning came, we set forth over the mountain ranges overlooking the valley of the serpents and at length descended to a stretch of sea. This we crossed by means of the boats which they had moored by the shore, and came thus to a low-lying island where grew camphor trees in abundance, each of which might shield a hundred men from the sun. Here, too, upon the plains roamed the wild rhinoceros, of which wonderful tales are told by people who return from unknown lands. This beast impales an elephant upon its horn with ease, and wanders thus, with little hindrance to its pasturing, until the fat of the elephant, melting in the heat of the sun, and flowing down into its eyes, renders it blind; whereupon it seeks the seashore and lies down until such time as the rukh may find it and carry both it and the elephant away as a morsel for its young. But I speak of what I know and, as I saw naught of this kind, I can but say that I know not.
I continued with my companions for some space, journeying from island to island and exchanging the diamonds we had acquired for rich merchandise. And, in passing through many countries unheard of in this city, I separated from them and went my way, coming at length to El-Basrah with a princely cargo of goods. Thence I journeyed to Baghdad, the Abode of Peace, and rejoined my family. Wealth I had in abundance, and I resorted to my former life of luxury, bestowing gifts and alms, wearing rich apparel, and eating and drinking with my companions. This is the story of my second voyage, and by the grace of God (whose name be exalted!) I will narrate to-morrow the still more remarkable adventures that befell me on my third voyage.
End of The Second Voyage Of Sinbad The Sailor